MEXICO CITY - Puerto Rico defeated the USA Women's National Team (WNT) 25-21 Wednesday night in the final game of the Pan Am Championships qualifier in Mexico City. More than previously in the tournament, the USA played competitively. The improved defense stopped Puerto Rico on most attacks during the first half and the USA was able to respond with controlled offense as well, with few turnovers. Using their height advantage, the Americans opened wide gaps in the Puerto Rican defense and were able to go over the top with lob passes.
The Puerto Rican team had difficulty making adjustments and committed several turnovers. Although the Americans failed to capitalize on every offensive attack, they were able to open a lead. At one point the Americans held Puerto Rico 11-5 until a rally closed the score to 12-9 at halftime. The second half, however, was a different game. The Puerto Ricans caught the Americans after a series of mistakes on offense, which allowed outstanding chances to Team Puerto Rico. At 12-12, the game went back and forth with a couple goals being exchanged. The Americans went without scoring for too long; Puerto Rico opened a lead and stretched it as the game neared the end. The Americans didn't fold, however, pressuring their opponents into several turnovers. Unfortunately, the Americans found the back of the net on but a few counter attacks.
"The women were playing 100 percent in all five games. They really tried to win," said Marko Brezic, interim coach for the PATHF Division I tournament. "They are rising; every game, they wanted to be better than the last match. The final game against Puerto Rico was the best they played. I think that they represented the USA extremely well. After the last match, the team vowed to find new athletes and spread handball in their communities, because they are aware that without new athletes and handball players we cannot move forward. I can only regret that we didn't have several months of preparation because I'm sure that after only one month, we would have won more matches and finished at least second place."
The team discussion which followed the loss was upbeat, with players vowing to commit to developing a program for the WNT. The team returned to the United States on Thanksgiving. The U.S. came in fourth in the tournament, after Mexico, Chile and Puerto Rico, respectively. Mexico and Chile are now qualified to compete in the Pan American Elite Championships, to take place in June 2009 in Chile.